EU Commission wants to see universities in different member states award joint degrees. Universities and national authorities will now run trials to chart how to make this happen
Ten Erasmus+ funded projects are set to test out new forms of transnational university cooperation, including the granting of joint degrees.
The European Commission has been pushing for the introduction of so-called ‘joint degree labels’ that recognise the experience and learning outcomes students acquire through international education in different institutions and countries, in different languages, and as a result of student mobility schemes.
Universities now have the chance to figure out what joint degree labels will mean in practice – and whether they are worth the effort.
“I think we have had a bit of puzzlement about what the European degree would look like and in terms of the kind of criteria to use to assess the European degree,” said Maria Kelo, director for institutional development at the European University Association (EUA). “I have a lot of hopes that these pilots will bring out what really can be useful for the institutions. I hope they will answer the questions on why and how.”
Ivana Didak, senior policy officer at the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, says the projects have potential, but stressed joint degrees are not an end goal in themselves but rather a direction worth exploring. “It is important to promote diversity of approaches to transnational collaboration, including those models which do not lead to a joint degree,” she said. “We should carefully consider the scope of the European degree label, and hopefully we will end up with a model which is attractive for universities.”
Thus far, the idea of joint degrees has generated a lot of work and an extra bureaucratic burden, as universities tried to work out how to set them up under fragmented national rules. “Universities tried it once and don’t want to do it, because the regulatory framework is so intense,” said Kelo. “I think a key issue is that a lot is up to national authorities, and it’s about working on eliminating a lot of obstacles.”
Some universities, including those involved, have been sceptical about the usefulness of the European degree label, Kelo noted. That will make them the ideal candidates to test them. “It’s precisely because of their involvement in the pilot we hope we will have a good understanding of what would be a useful first development,” she told Science|Business.
The ten projects will run for one year with budgets of up to €200 000. Six will examine, test and facilitate joint degree labels. Four will test out other measures that could strengthen cross-border university collaboration, including a possible legal status for EU-funded European university alliances.
The legal status could help the 44 alliances that the EU supports in testing out ways to collaborate transnationally to make common strategic decisions, experiment with joint recruitment, design joint curricula and pool resources. Thus far, fragmented education laws across the EU have impeded the work of the alliances.
The projects are part of the European strategy for universities the Commission introduced in January 2022, which seeks to harmonise higher education on the continent and increase transnational collaboration.
They may be part of the solution, but Kelo notes, moving towards European degrees will not remove the barriers to a more coherent and harmonised higher education system. To make real change happen, countries must implement structural changes inscribed in the Bologna process for higher education reform.